“Never Gonna Give You Up” made Rick Astley a star in 1987. The video showcased Astely’s soulful voice accompanied by ’80s-style dance moves. His dance style was more reserved and subdued compared to other 1980s pop stars of the day. Astley started his musical career as a drummer, and his dance moves are similar to how a drummer accentuates the beat of a song. Astley uses arms, hands and legs to accentuate the beat rather than using the beat to showcase his dancing chops.
The "Rickrolling" Dance Craze
Rick Astley’s dance style became a global sensation in 2007 because of a bizarre Internet prank. People who clicked on various websites including sites for Radiohead and an anti-Scientology website were surprised to see Astley’s 1987 “Never Gonna Give You Up” video pop up. The prank came to be labeled “rickrolling.” Astley’s video has had millions of hits since 2007 and made his dancing style more popular than it was in the ‘80s. Astley’s dance style is appealing for a couple of reasons: It has a retro quality to it, and it is not terribly complicated.
The Lower Body
Astley’s lower body is the foundation of his dance style. He slightly bends his knees as he rotates his hips back and forth. Depending on the song, he often thrusts his hips upward as he sways from side to side. He uses hip thrusts for his more danceable tunes. He pushes up with the knees to give a little more power to the hip thrusts. Astley’s hip movements and hip thrusts are subdued compared to Elvis. He moves his hips and lower body in a smooth rhythmic pattern that is in sync with the beat.
The Upper Body
Astley swings his arms and elbows back and forth with the rhythm. He typically uses two general patterns with slight variations. He uses one pattern for the verses of the songs and a different pattern for the choruses. He bends his arms at the elbows and keeps them close to his body at about waist level. He usually swings his arms back and forth to the beat in an eighth-note pattern. He alternates the eighth-note movements with triplet movements now and then. Triplets are three notes per beat. He uses a slightly different pattern on the chorus to accentuate the lyric of the song. He often raises his arm above his head on beat one, and then returns it to the original position.
Accentuate With the Hands
Astley adds a final touch to his dance style with various types of hand movements. His hands accentuate the beat and punctuate different points of the songs for dramatic emphasis. Sometimes his hands form a loosely clenched fist with thumbs pointed straight. This is similar to how a drummer holds drumsticks. He often rotates his wrists in a circular pattern as he swings his arms and elbows back and forth opening his hands at certain parts of the song to emphasize a lyric. A second pattern he uses is a variation on the first one. He raises one hand above his head with the index finger pointed straight on beat one of the chorus. He then brings his arms and elbows back to waist level spreading his arms with his palms open.
Improvisation and Freestyle
Astley’s dance style has a free-flowing element to it. In other words, he relies on feeling and improvisation rather than following a choreographed script note for note. This becomes more obvious if you compare the original music video of “Never Gonna Give You Up” with live performances of the same song. Don’t worry about learning his dance moves step by step. Focus on developing a natural groove or feel that mimics his basic style. “Never Gonna Give You Up” was followed by other hits such as “My Arms Keep Missing You,” “Whenever You Need Somebody” and “It Would Take a Strong Man.” His moves on the slower tunes are more minimal than the faster dance tunes. His live performances tend to emphasize vocals over dance. His moves serve to complement the overall feel of the song.
Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.